By Cheryl Edwards-Cannon
My mother had early-onset dementia. She and my father lived in a lovely residential community that was set up for residents with memory loss. Even though the facility had wonderful on-site enrichment programs, I continued to take my parents on outings to provide additional stimulation. Here are my top three ideas for helping people with dementia participate in the outside world, and the benefits that follow.
Never underestimate the healing power of nature. My mother loved to walk around a lake near her home. We would watch the ducks and swans; Mom was quite adept at describing their movements. Ancient Greek Hippocrates said it best: “Nature itself is the best physician.” If walking isn’t an option for your loved one, you can always find a nice bench and observe the many beautiful things nature has to offer. The benefits are numerous, including exercise, fresh air and most importantly – companionship.
People with dementia deserve the chance to participate in life outside the “four walls” of their household.
My mother was extremely observant. When we would go for rides, she would remark on the various flora: “Look at that little red flower!” as we passed our “roadside attractions.” You would be surprised at what passes for “entertainment”—the simple pleasures are very good company for those with dementia. Be mindful that sunny days are ideal. Not only will you get a dose of Vitamin C, your loved one will have a clear view of beautiful scenery to enjoy. No need to drive across the entire county, a 30-minute ride should be plenty. If you live near an airport that has a viewing area, pack a small picnic and enjoy watching jets taking off and landing.
For dementia patients who are still ambulatory and verbal, you might consider an outing to a destination. Excursions to the grocery store for example, do require some advance planning and a whole heap of patience. Having said that, I would urge family members to understand the value that these excursions provide to both the caregiver and dementia patient: a chance to spend time together, stimulation (in moderation) for the elderly person and a connection to real-life activities that provide reassurance and comfort. Be mindful that many stores now offer private shopping hours for those who would benefit from a less hurried, busy shopping experience. You and your loved one will benefit from a less crowded store to allow for easy navigation through aisles and check-out lanes.
People with dementia deserve the chance to participate in life outside the “four walls” of their household. I’ve found that the simple acts of viewing nature, going for a car ride or a brief excursion to a store can provide an appropriate level of stimulation and enrichment.
About the author – Cheryl Edwards-Cannon holds a certificate in Gerontology and is the owner of Clear Path Choices, a consultancy that helps families provides direction and support for families facing elderly care challenges. She is the author of Taking Care of Miss Bee Bee and her writing has been featured in three Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. Learn more at: www.clearpathchoices.com.
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